Pop-Culture | Posted by Amy CT on 10/13/2009

Feminism and the Fashion Industry

the fashion industry: feminist or not?

the fashion industry: feminist or not?

I’m a fashion journalist. This is not, I’m guessing, exactly a great opening statement for a blog on a feminist website… Sorry.

The good news, though, is that I’m a teenage feminist fashion journalist and blogger at a genuinely morally good publication – and that my biggest inspiration in life is a (“grown-up”!) feminist fashion journalist at an equally morally good publication.

So, why am I telling you this?

Because I think that the industry I work in deserves to be cut some slack. I’m guessing that most young feminists look on it as a bit of a moral nightmare, because of the sexual and physical exploitation of models, and because of its blatant size-ism, and because it’s generally considered to be “a bit shallow.”

And yes, all of that is true.

But there is a good side to the fashion industry, there really is.

For starters, not everyone in the fashion industry is out to get the “regular girls” (by which I mean the girls who don’t fit into dresses seen on catwalks). Some magazine (admittedly mostly the online ones) such as Lipstick Royalty (the one I write for) and N.E.E.T. feature normal people, as well as young, up-coming writers, designers, photographers, and models, many of whom are making their mission in life to change the industry as we know it.
And then there’s this:

“It seems similarly anti-female to suggest that in order to be a true feminist, one is not allowed to have any vanity… Patriarchal society or not, everyone likes to look good…

Here, one suspects, lies the nub of the anti-fashion prejudice. Good God, women doing something – just for themselves? Spending their own money? Women making themselves feel good just for themselves…? Dear God, cover your eyes, think of the children!”

That’s an extract from the section on “Vanity, the joys thereof” in ‘The Meaning of Sunglasses’, a fashion book by the aforementioned “grown up” feminist fashion journalist, Hadley Freeman, of the Guardian and British Vogue… and I think she’s right. One of the in-built prejudices we have about the fashion industry is that it’s exploitive of women, and that it forces women to conform to standards that men find attractive…

But, generally speaking, almost every major player in fashion is female, from the editors to the bloggers, and to a lesser extent, the designers, too. And, I don’t know about you, but I wear what I wear for me. I don’t care what any male in my life might think. It’s his problem if he thinks I should spend less time in jeans and t-shirts, and more time showing him my legs. I’m not going to – and I tell this to my Grandad on a semi-regular basis (much as it pains me).

I think that we should happily embrace this industry; it’s essentially ours, anyway, and, well, I don’t know about you, but I think that a large dose of feminist opinion into it might be able to alleviate all of the major problems I mentioned, Size Zero, and the sexual exploitation of models especially.

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  • Zoe @ at 12:33 pm, October 13th, 2009

    Thanks for writing from a different perspective. It’s always refreshing to see both sides of an issue that we tend to pigeon hole as “bad.” It’s true, people like to look good in general, and it shouldn’t be written off as “conforming to male standards.”

  • Amy CT @ at 12:36 pm, October 13th, 2009

    Oh. My. Gosh.

    I am so excited to see my post here that I think I may start hypervaentilating.

    Do excuse me.

  • Cara @ at 1:40 pm, October 13th, 2009

    An interesting perspective Amy, but I think it should be noted that many designers are male, and designers control the size of models based on the size of sample garments they send to magazines. (British Vogue’s editor-in-chief recently sent a letter to several fashion houses complaining that this limits their ability to use anyone but the skinniest models.)

  • Helen H. @ at 1:41 pm, October 13th, 2009

    Hey Amy!

    Like Zoe, I’m thrilled to see another perspective on this.

    I’m speaking pretty speculatively here, but I’m sure there are strong, self-respecting women in the industry, doing what they want to do. And that’s what matters most.

  • Beth Eades @ at 2:09 pm, October 13th, 2009

    Amy! You’re on fbomb! =D
    Now I’ve got past my excitement, well done! I’ve always struggled to explain to people that I’m a feminist because they say “don’t you want to be a fashion writer!? Hypocrite!” You (and Hadley of course!) have managed to articulate so much better than me how I can have both those interests – they aren’t mutually exclusive!

  • May @ at 3:32 pm, October 13th, 2009

    The problem with the fashion industry overall is that it completely disregards the reality of women’s bodies and is one of the main contributing factors to bad body image in the US. There’s nothing anti-feminist about being involved in the industry, but there are definitely anti-feminist problems rampant throughout it.

  • Mar @ at 7:40 pm, October 13th, 2009

    I agree completely that there’s nothing wrong with the notion of fashion per se. I think it’s great that this huge, hyper-visible industry, most of the major players are women. I myself am a feminist. I myself support women in fashion. I myself love to dress well & look (dare I say it) sexy.

    However, I don’t think the fashion industry as a whole can be excused for what it does simply because of its female-based executive and creative corps. Frankly, I would hope that these women would be more aware of the conditions their models work under.

    It’s not just objectification of models, and it’s not just sizism (let alone racism) — there is rampant sexual harassment and rape of professional models. As I understand it, these abuses are also fairly regular. Furthermore, they go largely ignored.

    In my opinion, there are too many child models — indeed, too many models — suffering at the hands of this industry. There are too many people who have to watch these abuses, from eating disorders to rape, be tacitly accepted. These things become normal for readers & viewers. We can’t help but internalize those messages. Everyone I know does it. I do it. It’s not okay.

    I am acquainted with Lipstick Royalty and a few publications in similar veins. You guys do wonderful work. I have no problem with many designers & fashion publications. Unfortunately, I feel that you wonderful folks in fashion are in the distinct minority. It’s a tragedy and a crime.

    So please, bear that in mind when I reiterate: I disagree. I don’t think the (large, mainstream) fashion industry deserves an inch of slack. Frankly, I think it needs to get its act together and join up with the indie folks who are actually treating their models & readers ethically. (One photo in Vogue does not qualify.) Once that photo is no longer a thrilling event, I will give the fashion industry the credit it should (by then) richly deserve.

  • Ruthie G @ at 7:56 pm, October 13th, 2009

    Repetitive here I know, but I’m glad to see someone who probably has a better understanding of the industry than a lot of its critics, especially how it’s trying to change (btw, I know nothing about these changes. Need to rectify that…)

    Also, Hadley Freeman is one of the funniest journalists at the Guardian. Y’know how there are some people who you make sure you read whatever? She’s one of mine.

  • Sheridan T @ at 8:20 pm, October 13th, 2009

    I have always loved fashion, but the artistic side more than the physical side. I adore going into Chanel boutiques and admiring the construction, fabric choice, color schemes. I do cringe a bit when I see how identical the models are.
    The fashion industry has time and time again displayed an ability to bring women together like no other industry has, which is extremely admirable. Of course it has -plenty- of work to do, but if we embrace it knowing what we’re getting in to we’re that much stronger.

  • RebJ @ at 10:46 pm, October 13th, 2009

    The fashion industry is a bit like the American car industry. Neither give people what they are asking for; they seem to perpetuate their own “ideal standards”, whether that is gas-guzzling SUVS or emaciated models.

    Question: If fashion is such a female-dominated industry, then why is it so sexist?

  • Amy CT @ at 4:33 am, October 14th, 2009

    @RebJ This is why the fashion industry needs to be taken seriously by young feminists – if our opinions are heard, they are less likely to be completely disgarded. The only waya to get to people in this industry is through a) bad press and b) lack of sales.

    I’m going for the a) bad press -for the misogynists.

    But I don’t believe that everyone in the industry is bad; a lot of us are very morally good. :)

  • RebJ @ at 9:19 pm, October 14th, 2009

    The “unrealistic standards of beauty” promoted by the fashion industry has practically become a cliche in our society. How can it be that our “opinions” are not heard, when they are so seem so redundant? When magazines like Glamour come out with an issue featuring “plus” sized models, people squeal with delight. Why, then, are 99% of their images still picture of women who have been airbrushed and photoshopped to perfection? How many women would be more inclined to buy a pair of jeans that look good on a size 14 model rather than a size 0 one? How many in the fashion industry are well aware of this, yet stubornly insist of perpetuating their own ideals?

    I don’t think there is a shortage of bad press and satire of the fashion industry out there. So I’m skeptical that making my voice heard will be effective, if not tediously redundant, at all.

  • Brooke @ at 10:57 pm, October 14th, 2009

    Designers, models and fashion editors may be mostly female, however the fashion industry is still mainly owned by men. Men who concerned about profits figured out a long time ago that the smaller the sample size the cheaper it is to make the samples.

  • codieface @ at 3:41 am, October 15th, 2009

    I can’t really comment on the ‘feministness’ of the fashion industry and whether it can be subverted to something woman-positive – I don’t take that much joy from clothes and don’t follow fashion that much. But, I do know more than enough about what the media has to say about women and beauty – we all do, considering women are told it 24/7.

    I don’t really follow the line of Freeman’s thinking in that extract you posted – feminists hate women in make up, because women are doing something for themselves – and feminists hate women doing stuff for themselves, right? No, I think the feminist line of thinking regarding ‘vanity’, is that because women so often AREN’T doing it for themselves – they’re doing it for their partners, their prospective partners, their girlfriends, the girls they don’t like, the person on the street who thinks to themselves ‘what a waste’ when a pretty girl goes out without make up on – it’s anti-woman.

    I don’t think anyone has any qualms with a woman making herself look good because she genuinely wants to – but because our understanding is so wrapped up in what we learn from our culture, and by extension our media, it can be difficult to unravel what we genuinely feel and what we’ve been TOLD to feel. I mean if I see ads every day that feature girls getting too embarrassed to talk to boys because they have a pimple, I’ll start to have second thoughts talking to anyone I find attractive if I have a break out because, well, bad skin isn’t that attractive, and when you’re unattractive you shouldn’t talk to boys, right? So I try to mitigate when I get breakouts so I buy this miracle cream that features the stupid ad with the stupid girl who can’t talk to a stupid boy just because she has a stupid pimple!

    So yeah, I really question when people say that ‘vanity is perfectly natural’, because I mean, there are so many more things to worry about! If I’m going to worry about my self-worth, I may as well worry about whether I can express my self properly, whether I’m funny, whether I treat everyone with kindness, rather than stuff like my weight, which in the big picture doesn’t matter at all.

    Sorry to the people who waded through that, expect some sort of point or intelligent ending or something >_>

  • Amy CT @ at 5:13 am, October 19th, 2009

    “I don’t really follow the line of Freeman’s thinking in that extract you posted – feminists hate women in make up, because women are doing something for themselves – and feminists hate women doing stuff for themselves, right? No, I think the feminist line of thinking regarding ‘vanity’, is that because women so often AREN’T doing it for themselves – they’re doing it for their partners, their prospective partners, their girlfriends, the girls they don’t like, the person on the street who thinks to themselves ‘what a waste’ when a pretty girl goes out without make up on – it’s anti-woman.”

    I’m sorry if that’s what you got out of that quote. What I had intended to be suggested was that MEN or BUSINESSES can’t comprehend women doing something for themselves.

    Woops.

  • Charise New Designer Fashion @ at 5:53 am, December 8th, 2009

    Howdy I came across this post by chance, I was searching the net for Designer Fashion when I came upon your webpage, I must say your site is really great I just love the theme, its astounding!. I’m strapped for time at the moment to fully read your website but I have bookmarked it and also signed up for your RSS feeds. I will be back in a day or two. Thanks for a great webpage.

  • cccleaner @ at 12:08 am, May 22nd, 2010

    Good points. Bookmarking to check back for follow-ups later.

  • Further Reading: Can Fashion and Activism Co-Exist? « sartoriography @ at 3:51 pm, August 6th, 2010

    [...] feminism give fashion a [...]

  • A @ at 11:51 am, August 24th, 2010

    we should dress for ourselves.
    great post!

  • Katie @ at 6:05 pm, October 11th, 2010

    I agree completely. I personally love fashion and I love wearing cute clothes, and the feeling that I get when I feel confident in my outfit. I have a bit of an obsession with shoes (I just counted how many pairs I own, and the total is 45. With two more pairs on the way).

    But yes, it is patriarchal from a couple of different perspectives. But I think that as long as you know why you are wearing those things, then there is nothing wrong with wearing “fashionable” clothes or shoes or makeup or accessories.
    Part of the beauty of feminism in our lives right now is the fact that we are able to CHOOSE whether or not we want to wear pants, dresses, rompers, short skirts, etc. The kind of clothes we wear are no longer being forced upon us.

    If I want to wear liquid leggings as pants with my brand new pair of wedge booties with a sparkly shirt and a blazer…who’s to tell me not to? I can do and wear what I want.

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